With the election of President Obama in 2009, many young black men and women saw hope in the promise of the American dream—the belief that hard work and unrelenting persistence guaranteed a seat at the table. But as the years passed, the envisioned path of upward mobility proved impassable. And yet, the reality of the lives of black millennials in a post-Obama nation isn’t a portrait of total despair. For Reniqua Allen, Eisner Fellow at the Nation Institute, the demystifying of the American dream represents a chance to abandon the expectations of white America and forge a new path. It Was All a Dream: A New Generation Confronts the Broken Promise to Black America is a portrait of young black people grappling with the enduring legacy of white supremacy. Combining nuanced reporting with the intimacies of personal experience, Allen showcases the lives of black millennials, which are rarely portrayed with accuracy in mainstream media.
Gathering the stories of more than 75 black Americans living everywhere from sprawling cities to contained suburbs, Allen dismantles the conditional terms of a lie that has been peddled for decades. The American dream says that the road to success is built upon meritocracy, but black millennials soon discovered that education alone couldn’t fully shatter institutional racism and systemic discrimination. Allen shares the experience of Michael, a former college athlete with a crippling amount of undergraduate student debt. Like many of his peers, Michael did everything “right.” But Michael lost his athletic scholarship due to injury before graduation. He was determined to finish his education, despite the mounting debt. Although he doesn’t consider his experience “a sob story,” it’s in line with the stories of many black Americans who followed the rules put in place by white America.
In this insightful book, the idea of the American dream is proven to be a fairy tale at best, and a nightmare at worst.